Cinematographer Sujith Vaassudev first shot to fame with his work in Drishyam. Since then, he has steadily delivered with hits such as Prithviraj starrers Memories, Ezra and Anarkali.  He experimented with genres and made an impressive debut as a director with James and Alice — an interesting commentary on urban marriages.

Sujith is all set for his second, Autorsha, and will also be shooting one of the most awaited films of Malayalam cinema, Lucifer, the directorial debut of Prithviraj. Excerpts from an interview:

How did you arrive at the story of Autorsha?

Long ago, I had a Bajaj Chetak scooter. Initially, I thought of making a film around it and the idea of a man’s first vehicle. That’s when I met C Ganesh in Kozhikode and read his book – Autoyude Autobiography, a book from an auto’s perspective, how it sees the owner and his family and I was bowled over.

Was Anushree your first choice?

Yes, she has this girl-next-door appeal. She can disappear into a crowd; someone who won’t look odd amidst auto drivers.

You have also shot both the films you directed…

I thought better not to get into a fight with another creative head. The framing parameters, feel, lighting, colours—it’s all in my mind. And if you have noticed, none of my two works are similar. For 7th Day, I experimented with yellow tones for hilly locations where you normally opt for green or blue. I have used blue only when the antagonist enters the frame. The rest are all warm hues. Besides, I don’t know how much will work if someone else does shoots my film. The results might not be as satisfactory.

I thought Vedhika was the highpoint of James and Alice. That was her best performance till now.

Vedhika is a dedicated actor. I sent her the dialogues and she wrote it in Hindi, understood the meaning while I explained the modulation to her. She would record it on WhatsApp and send it back to me. This process helped a lot.

Ezra was much talked about. Is horror tricky to shoot?

Horror is very challenging. In India we shoot horror fully lighted up. In fact, we go over the top. We hear darkness when the lights go off, the challenge is to expose darkness.

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Does success and failure matter to you?

Right from my first film, success and failure has always mattered since I don’t do it for money. I am thoroughly involved in every film, so when the desired results don’t come, it affects me a lot. I won’t say there have been huge flops. James and Alice was an experimental film, evenly paced and we were not sure how it will reach people. But I was happy to see that it impacted lives. I am aware of couples on the brink of divorce giving their marriage a second chance after watching the film.

Does failure affect a cinematographer?

Since I have been associated with successful films, I think I have been lucky. But then it’s high time they realised that bad luck cannot be associated with the cinematographer. Wayanad, as a location choice, was considered unlucky. Till Drishyam and Kadha Thudarumbol, Thodupuzha was unlucky. Earlier, people were scared to shoot in the Kottayam-Pala. Please blame failures on bad scripts instead.

Do you think we are more clued in about the nitty-gritties of cinema now?

Of course. Once at a coffee shop, I overheard an enriching discussion on cinematography by a group of college students. They had such clarity.

And these instant reviews on social media?

Social media has increased our pressure. Of course, I have wished it wasn’t there, but you can’t do anything about it. A review is more about the writer’s perspective, his culture, tastes, books, attitude, upbringing. So, he/she must be more responsible. I know a film critic who used to come down heavily on every film and had to shut shop when he made one of his own.

Who are the directors you have found yourself to be in sync with?

Lijo Jose Pellissery doesn’t like normal frames—it must be different in lighting or texturing. He is very particular about music and sounds. I would love to work with him again.

How do you perceive new generation cinema?

I don’t get the term new-gen cinema. Wasn’t Nirmalyam new generation back when it released? So were films of Padmarajan and KG George. Is there a film like Yavanika now? I think it’s silly to call them new generation cinema.

What about some of our younger cinematographers?

So many are there but not sure they are getting the right platform. Littil Swayamp is promising, so is Gireesh Gangadharan and Vishnu Sharma. Shyju Khalid I feel is yet to show his versatility.

Are there trends in cinematography that you don’t like?

Just as there is a feel in music, cinematography too has one. But we don’t see it through frames and lighting. That’s why they are often unable to showcase the beauty of actors. When all the aspects come together then it’s good cinematography.

Are there cinematographers you look up to?

I am Santosh Sivan’s biggest fan. I used to visit the sets of Vanaprastham and watch him. But when he called me to assist him I couldn’t go to Bombay. I have watched all his movies as a sort of study material. Nirnayam had the first wide angle lens in Malayalam cinema. He is my guru. I also love Roger Deakins and Conrad Hall.


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